Cyber Historical Nihilism and its Governance in China

All Abstracts > Cyber Historical Nihilism and its Governance in China

Cyber Historical Nihilism and its Governance in China

Authors | Affiliation:
Jian Xu | Deakin University; Qian Gong| Curtin University ; Wen Yin | Nanjing Forestry University

Presenting at:
2D | China’s Internet Governance: Domestic Issues and Global Aspirations


‘Historical nihilism’ became a trend of thought in China since China’s economic reform and gained momentum with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Challenging the ‘historical materialism’, essence of Marxism that the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is built upon, historical nihilism aims to reinterpret and re-evaluate modern Chinese history, especially the achievements of the CCP, its leaders and heroes. The trend of thought is criticised by the government as something extremely harmful that deconstructs the mainstream ideology, disobeys the materialist concept of history of Marxism, and attempts to shake the legitimacy of the CCP’s leadership.

In the past few years, the rise of social media and ‘self-media’ accounts has made historical nihilism going online, forming what the CCP termed ‘cyber historical nihilism’. To govern cyber historical nihilism has become one of the most crucial tasks of the CCP’s ideological work in the digital era. The article studies the performance, perception and governance of China’s cyber historical nihilism. We first examine representative cases of cyber historical nihilism, such as the debate on China’s Korean war hero, Qiu Shaoyun and the ‘spiritually Japanese’ (Jingri) phenomenon, to understand the discursive strategies and contentions of cyber historical nihilism. We then conduct semi-structured interviews with 12 university students to understand the perception and impact of cyber historical nihilism among educated young people. Last, we look at the CCP’s governance strategies to combat the harmful trend of thought through internet governance, legislation, innovative propaganda, and ideological and political education targeting at young people.

We argue that cyber historical nihilism is not a new phenomenon in essence, but a new ‘watchword’ (Tifa) invented by the CCP to initiate an ideological campaign against the rising historical nihilism current facilitated by the disruptive digital media and communication. The multi-pronged governance of cyber historical nihilism has demonstrated the CCP’s adaptability and capacity to guard its legitimacy and maintain the Party’s ideological security while facing challenges from evolving media technologies in the post-socialist era.

About the authors

Jian Xu


Jian Xu is a Senior Lecturer in Communication at Deakin University. He researches Chinese media and communication with a particular focus on digital media politics, internet governance and digital youth cultures.

Qian Gong


Qian Gong is a Senior Lecturer in Chinese at Curtin University. She researches Socialist culture in China, Chinese media and popular culture, working class identity, etc.

Wen Yin


Wen Yin is a Professor in Communication at Nanjing Forestry University, China. She researches social media and children, communication and aging.

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